At home, families face unique struggle

There are 2,192 military families in the city, and many have one or more members who are absent for long periods of time. An absence of over 30 days is officially considered a deployment by the Canadian Forces

Annie Riel and her two children were separated from her husband Greg when he was deployed to Afghanistan for seven months in 2010-11, during which she began her PhD.
Annie Riel and her two children were separated from her husband Greg when he was deployed to Afghanistan for seven months in 2010-11, during which she began her PhD.
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When Annie Riel’s husband returned from his deployment to Afghanistan last year, something had changed.

“He was so calm. The roof could have fallen down and his heartbeat wouldn’t have raced. Nothing was stressful,” Riel, PhD ’14 said.

This was a big change for the mother of two, who had been away from her husband for seven months after his deployment to Afghanistan between 2010 and 2011.

Riel said it was then that she stopped taking her husband’s presence for granted and felt lucky he was alive.

The conflict in Afghanistan began in December 2001 and in 2010 Prime Minister Steven Harper announced Canada’s role would be extended in a non-combative presence. Harper plans to have all troops withdrawn from Afghanistan by 2014.

While her husband was deployed, Riel enrolled in her PhD in French studies. Now she teaches French to undergraduate students at Queen’s.

Captain Greg Millican, Riel’s husband, said there’s a lot of separation anxiety between himself and his family when it comes to him leaving for deployments.

“You try to spend as much time with your wife and kids to try and take your mind off what’s coming up,” he said.

He also tries to prepare his family for his time overseas by taking care of things like putting winter tires on the family car.

While in Afghanistan, Millican was able to keep in touch with his family through satellite phone calls and acquiring access to Internet for Skype.

Millican returned home midway through his deployment in Afghanistan for three weeks. But returning to Afghanistan after this leave was the hardest part for both him and his children.

Out of approximately 123,000 residents in Kingston 2,192 Kingston families are supporting soldiers, according to the Kingston Military Family Resource Centre.

A family could include just two partners or parents with children.

Tucker Densmore, fourth-year aerospace engineering student at Royal Military College of Canada (RMC), said that students at the College must try to make an effort to communicate with their families.

“The family does sometimes get put on the back burner because your ultimate obligation is towards your duty,” he said, adding military family organizations help with some of the difficulties that can arise with getting deployed overseas.

In Kingston, the Military Family Resource Centre is one of these organizations. It provides support for military families in the city, like childcare, family support and community integration.

Terry Telford, marketing and public relations coordinator for the Centre said that part of the transfer process for many families arriving to Kingston is signing in with the Centre.

Telford said programs as simple as ‘Coffee and Chat’ can be helpful as it involves getting the military spouses together for coffee where they can swap stories.

“It’s good to get them together and say ‘what you’re going through is normal,’” he said.

Angela Enman married Lieutenant Cory Gillis 16 years ago and subsequently entered into the life of a military wife. Since then, they have lived in four different provinces for around five years at a time.

Currently, the family is living in Wainwright, Alberta where her husband is posted on the ASG Wainwright base.

Gillis was deployed to Bosnia in 1998 and Kosovo in 2000 and is currently stationed in Ontario until early December. He’s scheduled to return to Alberta this weekend for a visit.

An absence of over 30 days is considered a deployment by the Canadian Forces.

Enman said the constant concern of deployment is the worst part of being a military family. This fear was realized during Gillis’ second tour to Kosovo in 2000.

Gillis would often tell his wife not to worry if she didn’t hear from him for a week because of the difficulties of communicating overseas from Kosovo.

“Week one passed and week two passed and by the end of week three I started to worry,” she said.

Enman contacted the base in Kosovo to discover that her husband had been hospitalized by a case of salmonella that was destabilizing his kidneys. He had been too sick to request that someone contact her.

Fortunately, Gillis made a full recovery and was able to finish the remainder of the tour.

However his returns home can also be tough, especially after a long deployment, Enman said.

“You have to get used to each other again. They have to get used to you,” she said. “They have to get used to being out of danger.”

— With files from Alison Shouldice

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